OK, that qualifies as a sliver of a silver lining, a mere glimmer if ever there was one. But if you're Brown and the Buffs, hey, you latch onto whatever's there.
His worn-down, smacked-around defense is allowing almost 500 yards and just over 41 points a game, including averages of 542 yards and 46 points in the two most recent losses against offenses that featured dual threat quarterbacks and relied heavily on their sleight of hand and misdirection. The results were agonizing: UCLA hammered CU 42-14, Arizona State followed that up with a 51-17 rout.
Offensively, No. 11 USC is an altogether different species. When quarterback Matt Barkley runs, it's usually off the field after throwing a touchdown pass to either Marqise Lee (seven) or Robert Woods (five). Or, Barkley might break into an occasional trot for a gulp of Gatorade . . . or maybe to get a better glimpse of USC's Song Girls.
Said Brown: "You've got a lottery pick in Matt Barkley so they certainly can't afford to take any chances with him being hurt. True, USC doesn't run any option, but they obviously have tremendously talented people at the skill positions. They're able to make you pay badly. It's pick your poison, but it's a poison of a different type."
Added CU junior defensive back Parker Orms: "I'm not sure if Barkley can run; I'm not sure what his stats are. I know he can hand the ball off and stay in the pocket and throw it."
Really, now, is there need for anything else? But here's an FYI for Orms: Barkley's running numbers are 15 rushes for minus-65 yards - counting sack yardage - through six games. He won't pass on any opportunity to pass.
The NFL doesn't covet Barkley's legs; as long as they hold up he's a dead-solid first-round pick and probably the first overall selection in next spring's draft. He made Trojans fans delirious by returning for his senior season, and halfway through it he's completed 121 of 193 passes for 1,475 yards and 16 TDs (six picks). He was a preseason Heisman Trophy frontrunner, but after struggling in a couple of wins and in a startling loss to Stanford he's fallen well back in that conversation.
But there's plenty of time to catch up and as CU coach Jon Embree said, "When you start talking about (USC), you start with Matt Barkley." Embree went on. Barkley has "two great receivers - game-changers - out there in Woods and Lee," he said. "Then they picked up the kid from Penn State (Silas Redd) that gives them a tailback to match their talent on the edge. Defensively we have our work cut out for us; we have to do a good job of tackling and covering. They'll find as many ways as they can to get the ball out there to those guys and let them try to make plays."
Lee is averaging 12.6 yards a catch, Woods 10. Redd runs for 5.6 yards a carry and averages a team-best 95 yards a game. But as a whole, the Trojans offense hasn't been the weekly dynamo that coach Lane Kiffin projected, slipping into the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 Conference at 415.2 total yards a game.
After last week's defense-inspired 24-14 win at Washington that saw the Trojans offense shut out in the second half and Barkley throw for his lowest passing total since his sophomore season (167 yards, 66 in the second half going 3-for-10), Kiffin said, "I continue to remind myself there's one goal and that's to win the game. Are the numbers what we're used to? No. But we won."
Brown scoffed at the suggestion that USC is limping along offensively. "I don't see it," he said, noting that Washington's second-half success last week resulted from the Huskies "having good people" and playing "a couple of different schemes. They gave (the Trojans) a couple of different looks and didn't sit in the same thing all the time. They were proficient at it."
If Brown's defense can't hold up against Barkley, Lee, Woods, Redd, et al, USC's offensive "slump" will come to a spectacular halt Saturday in the sold-out (93,607) Coliseum. Brown is a Kiffin admirer, saying the third-year Trojans coach "has been everywhere, done it, seen it, knows all the ins and outs. When you say he's been around the block, this guy's been around the city.
"What they do, they're going to take a typical play but it's going to be dressed up in motions and formations so much that you're not going to know it's a typical play until the ball is snapped. That's an effort to keep you unsure and on edge; they're not going to line up and say, 'Here we go.' They're going to run the ball and then for good measure try to throw it over your heads to make sure you're awake . . . it's an eye-opening offense."
Unlike what CU saw from UCLA and ASU, USC offers misdirection of a different sort in a fairly conventional scheme. But it's populated by top-tier personnel. It offers a challenge that Orms said he and the Buffs accept: "I want to play the best and they have the best guys, some of the best guys in the nation . . . their whole team is a lot of (future) NFL guys. I just want to see how I can match up with some of them. I just know our guys aren't afraid or anything like that. We're anxious to get out there and see how we match up. We can finally be in a base defense with bigger guys and I can go back to play safety, which I'm excited about."
Orms called the 6-2, 230-pound Barkley "definitely the first NFL-type quarterback we've played this season. He's a pocket passer, a play-action passer. He's accurate and has guys who make plays for him, too. I'm excited to play him. I didn't get to play Andrew Luck (Stanford) and I really wanted to play him last year, but I didn't get that opportunity."
Through the season's first half, Orms ranks fifth among the Buffs in total tackles (39, 33 solo), has broken up six passes and has made four third-down stops. But he wants a pick: "I need an interception," he said. "I need to get the ball in my hands in some way. I haven't been able to do that this year. I've had some opportunities and just didn't turn my head around fast enough or make the catch. I feel like that's a thing you have to do playing DB; you've got to create turnovers and I haven't done any of that this year."
But he has stayed healthy, a rarity for him at CU. "That's a blessing," he said. "I've played six straight games - and I haven't done that since my senior year of high school. I'm just happy for that, but I want to change this season around."
When Orms signed with CU in 2009, the Buffs were members of the Big 12 Conference and faced a different cast of big-name opponents. "I signed to play Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, now I get to play USC, Oregon and Stanford," he said. "I'm going to the Coliseum on Saturday and can't wait."
He admitted that the first half of the Buffs season (1-5 overall, 1-2 Pac-12) produced "a lot of guys who are discouraged. But we have coaches who are pushing us every week. Why did you come to Colorado? What does the fight song mean to you? What do those words 'fight, fight, fight' mean to you? Some guys are going to get that, (with) some guys it's going in one ear and out the other.
"They're thinking about their future. I've tried as much as I can to let the freshmen know it goes fast. You don't know if you'll be able to play next season or when your career is going to end. The first half of the season didn't go well, but we have six more games left and you can either try and turn that around or you can give up."